David has kindly shared his presentation from the session here. It was a thought provoking session that referenced research on transfer and comes from his, and Nick Rose’s recently published book here.
I came from David’s sessions pondering 3 main things.
1. If we struggle to naturally transfer between contexts, why do schools bother with discrete lessons on learning. A few years ago I was part of a team that was timetabled to teach what was called ‘learning to learn’. We spent hours planning how we could get students to understand how they learnt (lots of thinking hats and learning styles) that followed a tried and tested programme established by another school; I forget the name of it. However, it was really obvious that if they didn’t get to use some of these tools in their actual subject classes then the skills weren’t going to transfer. We ditched the lessons and went to drop down days. We ditched the drop down days and it was obvious some of this needed to be done in subject lessons. That was too big an ask for teachers so it stopped.
Whilst not all of what we did was reliably research based, we did do some stuff that research has suggested is good for learning, so are schools wasting their time having discrete lessons or tutor times/assemblies on learning/revision strategies? Should it all be done by subject teachers to ensure transfer into ther subject?
2. I used to teach A level critical thinking. It was probably one of the best things I’ve agreed to teach outside my subject specialism. It changed the way I think, teach and understand logic and reasoning. I apply it across many contexts and use it regularly in my teaching in RE, however, did the students manage to transfer the skills learnt into their other subjects? I think many did. I once received an email from an ex student that told me that her A level Critical thinking had essentially been retaught in her Law degree and she had a huge advantage over other students that hadn’t studied it at ks5. She could easily transfer those skills into Law. However, there were times when students came out with horrific ‘sweeping generalisations’ or ‘ ad homines’ even though they knew what they were, why they were weak logic but couldn’t transfer them to another context, particularly a personal one e.g ‘All year 7s are annoying’.
If I, and some others could transfer the skills but others not so much, what was different between us?
3. Finally, David mentioned getting students to move seats or rooms to encourage students to vary the physical context of learning. I have alsways tried to get as many mock exams in the real exam hall, in the real exam conditions as possible but it’s obviously limited (PE/Drama generally lose a teaching room). So, I’ve decided that now, whenever students do a test in my room, they have to move table. I told them this week that research suggests it may help them. They nodded and agreed. Nothing to lose, maybe something to gain.